Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Everything is Illuminated in Bratslav

This past Sunday I got to take part in something very cool/a little surreal. Jessie (fellow PCV), who is leaving in a few days, wanted to see the town of her great-grandmother. Her name was Malka and she was 15 when she had to flee Ukraine (alone.) She was Jewish, and along with many other Jews in Eastern Europe, she definitely didn't have the easiest life. According to the Ellis Island records, she had to travel to London (she only had 3 days to get out of Bratslav) and then take a ship to New York. The journey on ship took five days, and she came into the States with no money at all.

Jessie's Peace Corps site is in Berdychiv, which is conveniently about 3 and a half hours from Bratslav, so we were able to do this trip in a day. The population is about 6,000 and it is in the Vinnitska oblast. Bratslav used to be a prominent city (it's an old medieval city) and because of the Jewish population being driven out in the 1900s, it is now a very small town that most people haven't heard of.

According to Wikipedia:
"Bratslav is famous in Judaism as the place where Rabbi Nachman lived and taught between 1802 and 1810. Rabbi Nachman was the founder of one of the major branches of Hasidism, Breslover Hasidism, and an author of Jewish mystical works."

We got there in the afternoon and walked through the town and towards the river. We climbed up a hill so we could see a view of the river and the surrounding farmland.

Then we walked to the Jewish cemetery, where Malka's father is buried. We couldn't find his specific grave, but a guy who was guarding the cemetery grounds told us what section he is buried in (by year.) He died in 1904.
The grounds are well-kept, but several of the gravestones have fallen or have broken. Jessie said that Jewish law prohibits those visiting a grave site from fixing the gravestones if anything happens to them. The graves are originally standing so that a person's soul will be sent upwards; therefore, if the grave falls, it's not our right to interfere with the grave, thus interfering with the soul.

There's also a new cemetery next to the old one.

Anyway, it was a great experience. It's rare for people to get to stand in the same spot as their ancestors and pay respects. It got me interested in doing the same someday!

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